National Grid cable reburial on Block Island paused until fall

NATIONAL GRID's sea2shore cable lands at Block Island's Town Beach on June 23, 2016 linking the island to the mainland./ PHOTO/CASSIUS SHUMAN.

NEW SHOREHAM – Reburial of National Grid Rhode Island’s exposed 34,500-volt subsea cable at Block Island’s Town Beach has been paused due to unexpected construction complications.

The construction project was scheduled for completion by Memorial Day. National Grid intends to resume the work in the fall after the busy summer tourism season on the island is over.

National Grid was in the process of reburying the cable over the past month when the issue was discovered. The cable, which connects the island to the mainland, was installed in June of 2016 as part of the Block Island Wind Farm’s electrical transmission system.

National Grid said material is obstructing the conduit pipe that the company had installed over the winter. A section of cable was to be threaded through the pipe from an offshore barge to a manhole in the Town Beach parking lot area to sufficiently rebury the cable.

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“This was an extremely difficult decision, but we recognize the importance of the summer tourism season for the Block Island community,” said Terry Sobolewski, president of National Grid Rhode Island. “We need to assess what is causing these obstructions, how best to get the pipe cleared, and ultimately complete the installation with confidence in the fall. We’re disappointed we won’t be able to get the cable completed by Memorial Day as we planned, but this is a very complex construction project. We’d rather get it right in the fall than try to rush completion of it now.”

Sobolewski noted that the impact to the island community was a driving factor in the company’s decision.

“After the challenges posed in the last year by COVID-19, we could not take the risk of having prolonged construction activity impacting the upcoming summer season,” he said. “At this time, we feel it’s better to pause work immediately, get the area restored for the summer season, and reset for completion in the fall.”

Over the fall and winter National Grid conducted drilling for reburial of the cable, and installed a conduit through which a section of the cable was to be installed. The unexpected material in the conduit was discovered in the past few weeks, just prior to the cable being pulled through the conduit.

When National Grid installed its cable in 2016, it experienced challenges with installation due to dense sediment in the surf zone at the Town Beach. The company has been under pressure from the Town of New Shoreham to properly address the issue.

Orsted A/S, the company that owns and operates the Block Island Wind Farm, has had no issues with reburying its cable at the beach. Orsted’s cable links the wind farm to the island’s power grid.

Meaghan Wims, spokesperson for Orsted, said the offshore wind company is nearly finished with its reburial installation work.

“We will be wrapped up in time for the summer season, as planned,” said Wims. “The new cable connecting the wind farm with Block Island has been replaced and spliced with sections of the existing cable. All that remains in our scope is removing sections of the previous cable that are no longer in use. The Block Island Wind Farm continues to operate as normal.”

Wims said that Orsted is covering all of the costs associated with it scope of work involving its cable reburial installation.

National Grid said it’s too soon to estimate impacts to the cost of the project, and does not expect any fines to be issued. The estimated cost of the project to date is about $31 million.

The company has informed local, state, and federal agencies of the delay and its progress through the end of May. It will seek to secure extensions on permits to allow for work in the fall.

Jeffery Wright, president of the Block Island Power Co., said the company had planned for reverting to backup diesel generation due to planned outages beginning on April 10 that National Grid had scheduled.

“We scheduled fuel, personnel and specialized contractors to address the outages,” said Wright. “They postponed day by day for three weeks.”

Wright said he did not know what the cost would be for the company’s delay in reinstalling the cable.

National Grid’s history with BIPC regarding ancillary costs related to the wind farm have been contentious. The utility company has passed along $2.5 million in costs associated with its substation on BIPC property to Block Island ratepayers, an issue that is before the R.I. Supreme Court.

Updated to include comment from National Grid.

Cassius Shuman is a PBN staff writer. Contact him at Shuman@PBN.com.

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